Stairwell safety may not get front and center attention from condo associations but should not be side-stepped. In the event of a fire, it’s important for stairwells to be well lit with access to the exit. If an elderly person slips and falls and breaks a hip, the injured party may suffer serious, even life-threatening injury and the condo association may be liable for a considerable amount of damages.
Attorney Frank Flynn of the law firm of Downing & Flynn in Boston, Massachusetts, has experience in personal injury law and represents condos in personal injury claims. Recently Flynn successfully defended a condo association against a personal injury claim. “The case was dismissed because the injured party fell on steps in the common areas and sued the individual owners instead of the association. If the plaintiff had sued the association, the insurance company could have defended the interests of the association,” says Flynn. He points out that it’s important for the association to know its rights and responsibilities as well. “You wouldn’t want an individual owner taking responsibility for repair of a common area step. That’s the legal responsibility of the association,” says Flynn.
“Associations need to ensure that stairwells conform to both building and sanitary code standards,” says Flynn. “The building code requires that the stairwells are built correctly in conformity with the code at the time they were constructed. The sanitary code requires that the stairwells be kept up and not fall into disrepair.”
“The state code has some specific requirements for stairwell safety,” says Ralph Noblin, a consulting engineer and principal of Noblin & Associates in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. For example, there are strict limitations on the differential in stair riser heights. There should be no more than a 3/16 inch differential between one riser to the next and no more than a 3/8 inch difference between any two risers in a set of stairs.
Flynn points out it’s important for stairs to have friction to prevent slip and fall injuries. Noblin, who has consulted in slip and fall cases for condos, concurs. “A non-skid surface can be accomplished with treads or sandpaper,” he explains.